A new study published in the May 21st issue of Cell detailed a compound called Celastrol which shows promise in fighting obesity.
Celastrol is derived from the roots of the thunder god vine. This plant has been used for ages in traditional Chinese medicine. WebMD lists all sorts of possible uses including as a rat poison, but scientists do see potential in the plant. Celastrol shows some usefulness against cancer per a 2007 study cited in the Cell article and a different compound showed some promise against pancreatic cancer per this University of Minnesota study.
The plant isn’t named for Thor, of course, but rather Lei Gong, a Taoist god of thunder. Fun fact about Lei Gong, he’s very prudish so you can prevent him from entering your house by displaying pornography. So, if that’s something you’re worried about, there you go.
After their initial screenings revealed Celastrol as being promising, the researchers gave it orally to mice that were genetically predisposed to being obese as well as a group of mice who had a healthier lifestyle. A control group of obese mice continued to watch game shows and eat cheeseburgers.
The effect on the obese mice receiving the Celastrol was dramatic. They reduced their food intake by 80% within a week and within three weeks had lost 45% of their body weight. The lean mice did not show any negative side effects.
The research team posits that Celastrol serves to heighten sensitivity to leptin, the hormone produced by fat cells which inhibits hunger. It’s believed that obese individuals have built up a resistance to leptin so that the hormone is no longer as effective. Further evidence to support the idea the Celastrol works via leptin came from the team giving Celastrol to obese mice who were unable to produce leptin at all. The drug had no effect on those tubby mice.
While this is potentially good news for the portly among us, it’s not like scientists haven’t managed to control obesity in mice before. It remains to be seen how well the drug will work in humans, how safe it is, long-term effects, etc..,. Even in the best case scenario, we are years away from a treatment.
The author of the study cautioned people against dosing themselves with the thunder god vine because Celastrol actually only occurs in very small quantities while many other more rat poison related compounds occur in abundance.